Some people look for exotic, overseas travel destinations that offer everything including bragging rights. However, if you are consider your vacation time a golden opportunity to kick back, relax and just go where the day takes you, a passport or airline tickets are not necessary. The Golden State’s coastal roads, highways and shoreline have everything you will ever need for a truly effortless escape that can be as decadent, active or simple as you want it to be.
By Elyse Glickman
What better place to start your journey north than with one of the favorite weekend destinations of the Hollywood elite. Better still, it’s conveniently located just about one hour from the West Valley. What makes Santa Barbara really appealing, however, is the fact that you have its old school/old money trappings and sporty milieu comingling with an emerging modern and artsy element.
The Goodland Hotel
(thegoodland.com, $159 – $379 per night), in the up-and-coming Goleta neighborhood, epitomizes what makes Santa Barbara the perfectly balanced cocktail of a destination. The spirited and pet-friendly 158-room boho-chic oasis offers such amenities and features as a vintage house car and airstream, record shop, curated art gallery, film and concert series, yoga, pop-up shops, in-room record players, workshops and complimentary SUP rentals for guests on Monday nights. The hotel’s Outpost restaurant serves locally-sourced cuisine and the lobby bar, Good Bar, features hand-crafted cocktails. It is also postioned near 20 restaurants, several noted beaches, prime hiking trails, and Goleta Butterfly Grove, a must-see destination during monarch butterfly season (Nov-Feb).
Special Lodging: The Goodland’s Courtyard Premier Parlor Suite features a private patio, a separate living room with pullout sofa, beautiful pool and courtyard views, hardwood floors and coastal wood furnishings, and modern amenities, including a flat-screen TV.
Canary Santa Barbara
(canarysantabarbara.com, $344-$683) This Mediterranean-flavored destination is the only downtown hotel with a panoramic rooftop outfitted with a pool, hot tube and bar-lounge. All of that is topped off with breathtaking 360-degree views of the Santa Ynez Mountains and Pacific Ocean. Finch & Fork, under the direction executive chef James Siao, is another draw for the tasteful property. It is noteworthy for its selection of world-class Santa Barbara wines and Tuesday night Buttermilk Fried Chicken. Guests have Santa Barbara’s best restaurants, tasting rooms and shopping at their doorstep, as well as easy drives to the beach and marina, Santa Barbara State Historic Park, and Santa Barbara wine country. However, several emerging trendy areas are steps away, including El Presidio and the Funk Zone, where you’ll find the tasting rooms of the Urban Wine Trail.
Special Lodging: Canary’s Nesting Collection of three-bedroom boutique hotel suites are connected by private hallways that allow guests to spread out in style. Accented with Mediterranean-inspired features including canopy beds, hardwood floors and spacious living rooms.
San Ysidro Ranch
(sanysidroranch.com, $895 – $1,374) is one of the grande dames of Santa Barbara resorts, with amenities that have earned it national acclaim, including recognition from Forbes as one of America’s best hotels. Local scenery, combined with charming French, Italian and American-influenced country interiors serve as the perfect backdrop for lush spa services, nearby golf, 17 miles of hiking trails, casual dining at Plow & Angel and the Wine Spectator-award winning Stonehouse Restaurant, anchored by chef Matt Johnson. Besides its serene location in the Montecito foothills, it is steeped in history. It is where Vivien Leigh and Sir Laurence Olivier exchanged vows and served as John and Jackie Kennedy’s honeymoon retreat.
Special Lodging: There are 41 individually decorated private bungalow cottages lining San Ysidro’s hillside creek- and tree-lined paths. Some are outfitted with hot tubs on private outdoor patios with outdoor rain showers, hand-cut stone or masonry fireplaces, radiant-heated bathroom floors, and hand-selected antique furnishings.
SAN LUIS OBISPO
The midway point between Los Angeles and San Francisco boasts 315 days a year of sunshine, and many ways to take advantage of them. They run the gamut from the Paso Robles wine region to sumptuous farmers’ markets, the legendary Hearst Castle and a wealth of spa and sporting activities including hike and bike trails, surfing and ATV and dune-buggy rentals.
Guests are on top of the world at The Dolphin Bay Resort & Spa (thedolphinbay.com, $355-$1250), situated on a 42-foot bluff with epic Pacific Ocean views and beach access only steps away. Lido, its restaurant, not only shares those 360° views but also boasts California coastal cuisine and a selection of over 800 wines. The Spa at Dolphin Bay, centrally located infinity pool or one of the luxurious oceanfront suites complete the perfect Central Coast picture. The accommodations consist of one and two bedroom suites ranging from 1,000 to 2,100 square feet, and equipped with home-y essentials: living room, dining room, full gourmet kitchen, laundry facilities, and a spacious balcony.
Special Lodging: Executive Ocean Front accommodations provide panoramic views of the ocean.
Avila Fonda (avilalafonda.com, $284 – $534), fronting scenic Avila Beach, not only captures the essence of the Central Coast, but touches of southern Spain and Mexico as well. While the property features a variety of modern amenities, it is rooted in historic tradition, thanks to the property’s architect who based the design on drawings and photos from a book written in 1928 by two young draftsmen who studied old houses throughout small Mexican towns.
The hotel consists of six cozy room styles, running the gamut from contemporary to rustic luxury perfectly suited for stays from one night to one month. Tempting complimentary morsels are offered to guests throughout the day, including continental breakfasts, Chip and Cheese Bar open from Noon to 2 p.m. with fresh local salsas, craft beer and soft drinks; and late night ice cream and Fresh Avila Valley Barn Pie served at 8 p.m.
San Luis Obispo’s center is arty, trendy and known for its food and craft beer scene. If this is what draws you onto the coastal highway, the sophisticated, five-suite SLO Brew Lofts (slobrew.com/the-lofts, starting at $350/night) is the perfect place to chill.
The location is a showcase for SLO’s urban appeal, some suites with views of the creek and the mission, others with views of historic downtown. The epicenter of the property is its neighborhood brewpub featuring original 10-barrel brewing tanks and copper kettle, fresh local fare, an intimate music venue, whiskey lounge, fireside salon, and creek side patio.
A short distance up the road from San Luis Obispo puts one in the heart of Big Sur, one of California’s most majestic, photogenic and unspoiled areas.
Big Sur River Inn
(bigsurriverinn.com, $166 – $167) exudes what makes the surrounding area the ultimate escape from urban sprawl and the challenges of big city life. The hotel’s aesthetic is home-y and paired-down, with Riverside Suites in the main lodge framing the river, and motel style rooms hugging historic Highway One across from the main lodge.
While the restaurant’s signature hot apple pie is still a highlight, farm fresh dishes for breakfast, lunch and dinner are made to order, with locally grown ingredients. The Los Padres National Forest, California State Park Lands, Point Sur Lighthouse and Molera Trail Rides are among the treasures waiting to be discovered.
Ventana Big Sur
(ventanainn.com, $712 – $1,697) infuses wellness and holistic living into Big Sur’s naturally serene backdrops and vistas for the perfect balance of luxury and simplicity.
While its spa and art gallery have long attracted guests, the Conde Nast Traveler-acclaimed property recently introduced a brand new “Art & Seekers” program, featuring spiritual and mind-body-soul experiences and workshops that celebrate the essence of Big Sur along with the resort’s mission to help guests establish or re-establish a meaningful connection to nature, art and the beauty of living well.
Workshops include Glass-Blowing, Drum Circles, Quartz Bowls & Cymatic Resonance Session, Create Your Couple Mandala, Neuroacoustic Music Therapy, Nature Charcoal Drawing Class and Photography-Hike Workshop.
From the renowned Pebble Beach Golf Course to world-renowned restaurants, wineries, pristine shores and quaint boutique-lined village streets, Carmel stands as one of Northern California’s ultimate luxury retreat destination.
The newest lodging appealing to the discerning tastes of visitors is Hotel Carmel, (thehotelcarmel.com, $189-309), a 27-room boutique inn debuting in May in the heart of Carmel-by-the-Sea. Pulling from Carmel’s art and food culture, Hotel Carmel’s design is contemporary casual rustic, from the expanded courtyard garden with an oversized Jacuzzi and fire pits to guestrooms with a breezy beach house feel. Brophy’s Tavern, the restaurant and local watering hole, is jauntily attired with 1,000 vintage beer cans, authentic sports memorabilia and a refurbished jukebox. Steps beyond this, guests can explore the galleries, shops, wineries and acclaimed restaurants all skirting the picturesque white-sand beaches.
A few blocks away, the 75-room La Playa Carmel (laplayahotel.com, $249 from late November-March, and $399 from April-early November), built in 1905, mixes the best of old and new Carmel.
It’s a destination within destination, thanks to its carefully tended gardens to its crisp, fresh interior décor. This property is noted for its lavish champagne Sunday brunch, and offers a shuttle to Carmel galleries and shopping.
In addition to golf, the Carmel Valley is making a name for itself as a wellness destination, with Carmel Valley Ranch (carmelvalleyranch.com, $480-$1,100) adding the Spa Aiyana to its 500-acre resort. The state-of-the-art spa is anchored by Dr. Bee Epstein-Sheperd and features an innovative treatment that encourages stress release and better sleep. A 60- or 80- minute session of self-hypnosis techniques is recorded, and becomes the ultimate souvenir to take home.
The resort also has several restaurants offering contemporary cuisine fashioned from ingredients sourced from the on-property organic farmer as well as a dedicated fisherman and vintner. Other activities offered include an equestrian program, tennis school, yoga sessions, nature walks, kids’ camps and more.
While San Francisco is known for its dramatic architecture, sophisticated cultural calendar and patchwork of ethnic neighborhoods, there’s much to discover beyond its trend-setting streets and urban culture.
(HotelZephyrSf.com, $216 – $584), nestled in the heart of Fisherman’s Wharf, is decked out with a maritime spin on the San Francisco’s classy-arty personality. Guest quarters are outfitted with fun elements such as dart boards, backgammon and other modern amenities in select rooms, along with views of the iconic Golden Gate Bridge, Alcatraz, Pier 39 and the Bay Bridge.
The Yard, is an outdoor playground for all ages, entertains with such conversation-starting elements as fire pits, shuffleboard, life-sized versions Connect Four and Jenga, three-dimensional walls, and “living wall-art” utilizing buoys and guests’ own bicycles.
Casa Madrona Hotel & Spa (casamadrona.com/themansion/, $304- $755), located right across the Golden Gate Bridge off the 101 in Sausalito, is so close and yet so separate from San Francisco’s city pulse. Built in 1889, it is remodeled with contemporary flair and features several hillside cottages, a luxurious spa, waterfront and countryside views, and access to the area’s most spectacular attractions. Special packages such as the Insider’s Guide to the Bay and the Learn to Sail package truly allow guests to be locals.
Special Lodging: The 5,000-square-foot Alexandrite Suite (from $10,000/night) is the jewel of Casa Madrona’s crown. It takes the “live-like-a-local” experience to the highest level, punctuated with an indoor-outdoor floor plan achieved with an open kitchen and dining room area connected by a large 1,500-square-foot outdoor patio. The gourmet kitchen, displaying denim hued granite countertops, is fit for a chef with its top tier range and convection oven.